July 13, 2017
TACS LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
You know that feeling you get during a suspenseful movie, when the good guys have fought off the bad guys after coming close to dying and dooming all of civilization? You can feel the relief as you sit back in your seat, take a deep breath, relax your tensed muscles, and get ready to enjoy the rest of the show. But, next thing you know, the evildoers are back alive like fake birthday candles that won’t go out. That is the feeling in Austin right now, on the eve of the special legislative session that Governor Abbott has called to begin next Tuesday, July 18th. The good guys in this scenario are educators, public school students, and regular old Texans going about their business in every corner of this vast and diverse state. In this living film, the lieutenant governor and governor are the bad guys who won’t give up trying to impose their will on Texans by overruling school boards, city councils, and other locally elected representatives that smart, independent Texans have chosen. Many have termed the special session a war on local control, cities, counties, and school districts. One could really call it a war between the state government and Texans. The vast proportion of the priorities for this special session intentionally tie the hands of locally elected public servants who know best how to serve their communities.
We were very disappointed that more good bills didn’t pass during the Regular 85th Texas Legislative Session earlier this year, but we did all let out a collective sigh of relief that vouchers were defeated, that laws limiting school districts’ freedom to determine their tax rate and other bills that hurt our teachers were defeated. All of those bad bills we fought so hard to kill are back, and this time they are on steroids. We are here to represent you and we are gearing up to fight those same fights again.
As of mid-day Wednesday, 105 house bills and 15 senate bills have been filed since Monday when the governor filed the official proclamation for the special session. That number is rising steadily, and it includes bills that the governor has commissioned and others from members with different goals and priorities. Governor Abbott has selected specific legislators to carry his priority bills, including quite a few that relate to public education.
1. Teacher pay increase and administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention – Rep. Travis Clardy
2. School finance commission – Sen. Larry Taylor and Rep. Phil King
3. Vouchers – Sen. Larry Taylor and Rep. Ron Simmons
4. Outlawing automatic withdrawals for teacher group dues – Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Jason Isaac
5. Property Tax Reform – (NOT via increased state funding for public education) – Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Rep. Dennis Bonnen
6. Regulating bathrooms and locker rooms – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and Rep. Ron Simmons
7. Limiting growth of local spending – (while reducing state spending) Sen. Craig Estes and Rep. Jason Villalba
Beneath the façade of a special legislative session about public policy, is a fierce political battle between the governor and lieutenant governor for who can be the most “conservative.” (So far, the lieutenant governor has been pushing the agenda and the governor has been trying to keep up and not be “out-conservatived.”) Meanwhile, Speaker Straus has been focused on funding public education and working to build consensus between business-minded Republicans and Democrats in order to make good public policy for all Texans. As demonstrated by the small secret coup in the Bexar County Republican Party earlier this week, Speaker Straus’s willingness to stand up and support public education and keep Texas friendly to citizens and businesses, makes him vulnerable. It is especially true since individuals and groups with insanely deep pockets are funding opponents for legislators who oppose vouchers, and other red meat issues.
Now, and in the coming months, it will be vital for each and every one of you to reach out to your state representative and senator and urge them to stay strong in support of funding public education, opposing vouchers, and keeping Austin out of your community’s business. Thank them for standing up for what is right and remind them that you and your community will remember their support on Election Day. If your legislators are not supportive of public education and prefer to underfund, demonize, and then privatize it, please call them too. Tell them that you and every public school educator and parent are watching and will vote for candidates that support Texas kids and the education they deserve. Call today, this weekend, or on Monday. The special session starts on Tuesday and your call should be fresh in their mind.
No one really knows how the session will unfold. There are a couple of scenarios being discussed. The first approach is favored by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Governor Greg Abbott, and senators and “Freedom Caucus” house members who support the state beating up on the locals. They are pushing for “20 for 20” which means passing all 20 of the governor’s priorities in 20 days. The opposing side is countering with a “Sunset and Sine Die.” They would prefer a scenario where the House and Senate pass the required sunset legislation to keep the medical and other licensing boards open, and then go home. We are in favor of that approach. The controversial issues to be discussed in the special session were all debated in the regular session and many bad bills were killed precisely because they were bad. If there were any chance the Senate might pass school finance legislation and increase funding for public schools, there would be a reason to stay. Sadly, without including vouchers, there is almost a zero percent chance that this will happen. So, why would we waste a minimum of $800,000 on a special session when there is no good that can come of it…and lots of bad could easily prevail? For this reason, we at TACS would love to see “Sunset and Sine Die.” Feel free to tell that to your legislators also when you call them today.
Lastly, if you find yourself in the Austin area on Monday, July 17th, please join a pro-public education rally that will be held on the South steps of the Texas Capitol at 1:30 pm. A group called Texans for Public Education is organizing the rally and many pro-public education groups are banding together to coordinate and support the event. For more information on the rally, click here: https://www.texansforpubliceducation.com/rally-2017
Once you are here, maybe even duck into the Capitol afterward, cool off in the air conditioning, and pay a visit in person to your local legislator. Give them a pat on the back for fighting for the 5.3 million kids in public schools, and the million active and retired educators who are counting on them to do the right thing!
With great respect and regards,
TACS Governmental Affairs
Past Legislative Updates